Review: Our 2017-2018 Broadway season

posted by Jeff | Sunday, July 29, 2018, 4:16 PM | comments: 0

The absence of recent shows made me realize that our season has been over now for a bit, and I didn't do a retrospective of mini-reviews. This was the best season yet at our beloved Dr. Phillips Center For The Performing Arts and the Walt Disney Theater. I love our date nights and going to that building. Theater is cool like that, because it starts to be this familiar place where you actually have difference experiences in, as every show is different.

The King And I

This is one of those things I knew because my mom loved the movie. It's a classic, for sure because, you know, Rodgers and Hammerstein. It was staged in a very classic way, with wonderful choreography and not a lot of complex scenery. The biggest surprise for me was how funny it played on stage. It wasn't a super memorable show outside of the fact that you've heard all of the songs before, but it was definitely entertaining.

On Your Feet!

As long-time friends know, I worked in commercial radio, hot AC then top 40, from 1994 to 1996. Gloria Estefan was still a big deal then, and having to suffer through playing back Rick Dees and Kasey Kasem at various points (we didn't have comprooders to do it yet), I knew her story all too well about the bus accident and the rehab and the come back and such. The show, not surprisingly, is about just that, and it's a pretty thin plot to hang a show on. However, as jukebox shows go, it's super entertaining, and watching a lot of beautiful people sing and dance is not a bad way to spend an evening. Heck, I think "Gloria" was better than Gloria. It was kind of neat having the band on stage, too.

There was apparently a lot of drama in the start of that tour, which kicked off in Orlando. The lighting rig was enormous, and it took four stage managers to run the show every night. They apparently didn't do a lot of load-in rehearsing, because the first night of the show was actually delayed almost an hour. It was big and complicated, though it wasn't apparent why when you saw it. I suppose that's very inside baseball, but it's fun to hear about stuff like that.

Love Never Dies

OK, this one I did write a review of, because it was so bad. The original Phantom was something I loved in my teenage years (even though I didn't see it until I was 32), so I was borderline offended at that this "sequel." I'll stop now. You can read the hate if you want.

Book of Mormon

This is already the second time it has stopped at Dr. Phillips Center, and it's every bit as funny as it was the first time. Brought along my best friend and her husband this time. The show was an add-on this season.

School of Rock

I have a love-hate thing with Jack Black movies, but the film was a classic because those kids were so damn talented. Until the season was announced, I forgot that they made it into a musical. I think it's almost like Andrew Lloyd Webber had to do a make-good for unleashing Love Never Dies on the world. There isn't a lot that's new about the show compared to the movie, though they do explore the principal's character a little more. I was surprised that they reused the song that the band performs in the movie.

The strength of the show though is that the kids actually play the music (and there's a cheesy announcement before the show by Webber indicating as much). They're so good. What a crazy opportunity and lifestyle for those kids, to tour the nation and perform in front of thousands of people. And the lead was frankly better than Jack Black, while still taking inspiration from him.

We ended up swapping tickets for the sixth row for this one, which was a little close, but you could confirm that the little girl playing the bass was adorable. I'm a sucker for shows with talented kids.

The Lion King

I saw this show in Las Vegas at Mandalay Bay in 2011 before it ended its run. This was one of the add-ons for this season, which made it convenient to buy three tickets and include Simon in a matinee. As I said when I first saw it, the opening of the show, and the start of the second act, are worth the price of admission alone. Disney gets a lot of shit because of its commercial success, and for some reason people put this at odds with the quality of its art. The animated film was beautiful, and the adaptation to a stage musical improved it in almost every way. It's darker, it's more dramatic and the music leans more into the African stuff that was not in the film.

Waitress

This was the surprise hit of the season, and I'm going to gush about it, because I really liked it. In fact, I could have seen it a second time (not for free or anything), and I regret that I didn't. I find most shows entertaining, but not that many really move me. This one did.

I don't remember much about the film version, but the plot is about a waitress who makes epic pies while married to an abusive jackass that she won't leave. She and the other characters make a lot of fairly terrible decisions about their personal lives, but the show is ultimately about finding the people who really value you, and seeing that change is possible if you're open to it. It's a fairly straight forward journey, starting with the daily routine of sameness, and realizing a better life. We've all made that journey in some way, I'm sure.

The music is what makes it special, of course, and it's amazing that Sara Bareilles could write such a strikingly good series of songs, lyrically and musically. Her own music has always been good, and she's a storyteller for sure, I just can't believe how well those skills translated to an entire musical. The touring cast that we saw, led by Desi Oakley, was really outstanding. I remember sitting there during "She Used To Be Mine," struck by how sad it was, how trapped she felt.

This was easily my favorite show in the Orlando series this year. I would absolutely see it again.

New York City trip

In April we made our way to New York, and there we saw Hamilton, Kinky Boots and Frozen. I wrote about those here and here.

Something Rotten

Diana was excited to see this one, and while I found it entertaining, it didn't really land with me. The idea is that these brothers are trying to produce great theater while competing with William Shakespeare, who is essentially a rock star. To compete, they event the musical. The show is filled with a ton of theatrical references, which are frankly not that clever (the ones that I get at least). This is another one that was reasonably entertaining and funny, but I was fairly indifferent about it.

Rent

I'm sure I've heard the music enough, and I saw the movie, but nothing about the show has ever grabbed me. I wanted to reserve judgment until I actually saw it. It was not an Equity show, but I don't think it would have mattered. I think the story is kind of dumb and I can't really bring myself to care about any of the characters other than the one that dies. I'm thinking it's because decades later, the things that made it remarkable at the time are not today. If you strip away the 90's boldness of including characters with HIV, gay people and a drag queen, there just isn't much there. It's just a bunch of whiny Gen-X'ers who want to fight the system and complain about it but not really do anything. At best, there are two good songs. I was so bored.

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